Lower back pain may resolve within a few days or weeks. However, in some cases, it may last longer. Depending on the cause, back pain may resolve on its own or require treatment.

The above information comes from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Lower back pain may be short term and resolve with self-care, but people may wish to speak with a doctor about long-term back pain that does not improve.

This article will look at how long lower back pain can last, causes of lower back pain, and when to contact a doctor. It also explains the treatment for lower back pain.

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The duration of lower back pain depends on the underlying cause. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, most cases of back pain resolve within a few weeks.

Different types of back pain and their typical duration fall into the following categories:

  • Acute: Acute back pain occurs suddenly and usually only lasts for a few days or weeks.
  • Subacute: Subacute back pain may occur suddenly or gradually and may last between 4 and 12 weeks.
  • Chronic: Chronic back pain occurs every day, may first appear quickly or slowly, and lasts for longer than 12 weeks.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, in around 90% of cases, lower back pain is temporary, and people will be able to treat it with self-care, medications, and therapeutic treatments. About 50% of people who experience episodic pain in their lower back will have recurrent pain within 1 year.

Recovery time may vary depending on the cause of lower back pain, but in many cases, people may find relief from back pain within 6 weeks.

Acute back pain may resolve by itself with self-care within a few days. Chronic back pain may last longer than 12 weeks, and recovery may extend beyond treatment for the underlying cause.

People may consider contacting a doctor if lower back pain gets worse or does not improve within 2–3 weeks of self-care.

People will need to contact a doctor as soon as possible if they have lower back pain that is severe, occurs after a fall or injury, or includes any additional symptoms, such as:

  • radiating pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling
  • problems relating to urinating or bowel movements
  • fever or chills
  • unexplained weight loss

Treatment for lower back pain typically depends on the cause but may include:

  • Physical therapy: Regular exercise, in particular exercises that strengthen the lower back, and physical therapy to improve posture and mobility may help.
  • Self-care: Applying heat or ice to the lower back may help ease pain and muscle tension.
  • Lifestyle changes: This includes eating a nutritious diet, managing stress, getting good sleep, and quitting smoking.
  • Medications: Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications may help ease symptoms.

If all other treatments are ineffective, surgery may be an option for certain back conditions.

Possible causes of acute lower back pain include:

Causes of persistent or chronic lower back pain

Persistent or chronic lower back pain may be due to:

  • disk tear
  • disk degeneration
  • herniated disk
  • spondylosis
  • degenerative spondylolisthesis
  • spinal stenosis
  • scoliosis
  • compression fracture

Risk factors for lower back pain include:

  • Age: Lower back pain may be more common as people get older and may begin between the ages of 30 and 50 years.
  • Lack of exercise: Back pain can be more common with a lack of physical activity, as the muscles may not be able to support the spine properly.
  • Weight: Obesity and overweight can put more pressure on the back, increasing the risk of back pain.
  • Occupation: Work involving heavy lifting or sitting at a desk all day, particularly with poor posture or support, may increase the risk of back pain.
  • Mental health: Stress may cause muscle tension leading to back pain, and mental health conditions may affect how people perceive pain.
  • Smoking: Smoking restricts blood vessels, which can affect blood flow to disks in the spine, leading to increased degeneration.
  • Backpack overload: Wearing a heavy bag, particularly in children, may cause straining or muscle fatigue.
  • Genetics: Genetics may increase the risk of certain conditions that cause back pain, such as ankylosing spondylitis.

The following are common questions about lower back pain.

How does a person know if their lower back pain is serious?

Signs that lower back pain may be serious include:

  • radiating pain, numbness or tingling, or weakness in the legs
  • changes in bladder or bowel function
  • back pain occurring after a fall or injury
  • pain that worsens when lying on the back
  • fever or chills
  • unexplained weight loss

People may wish to consult a doctor if they have back pain with any of the above symptoms.

Is walking good for treating lower back pain?

Walking is a low impact exercise that may help relieve lower back pain. Regular walking for around 30–60 minutes every day or two may help ease pain, as well as increase mobility and overall fitness.

Regular exercise can help keep the back healthy, strengthen muscles, improve flexibility, and help support the spine. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help reduce excess strain on the back.

Will bed rest help resolve lower back pain?

It is best to avoid bed rest. Instead, a person should try to limit activities that cause pain and then gradually increase physical activity. Avoiding strenuous activities for a few days may help.

Unless a doctor advises otherwise, research suggests that moving and staying as active as possible are beneficial for lower back pain.

When possible, continuing everyday activities as normal may help people with a pain condition cope.

Can extended bed rest aggravate lower back pain?

Research around treating lower back pain suggests that extended bed rest may worsen back pain and recommends avoiding bed rest for lower back pain.

Lack of movement may worsen pain in the long term and weaken the core muscles that help support the back.

Unless a doctor has identified a serious cause of lower back pain, nonspecific lower back pain will usually benefit from regular movement.

Lower back pain can last for a few days or more than 12 weeks, depending on the cause.

If people have back pain for more than a few weeks, or any concerning symptoms, they should consult a doctor. Treatment may include physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication.